Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with SocialCustomers for IncreasedCompetitive Advantage
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage1IntroductionCustomers enjoy providing feedback—especially when they feel someone is listening.If you ask them, your customers will tell you what they think of your current products,which product enhancements and new features they want, which new services they’remost likely to use, which topics they’re interested in hearing about—even what youshould call your next product.With advances in technology and the strong cultural shift toward online social activity,engaging customers for feedback and input has never been easier, less expensive, ormore effective. The social web makes it easy to ideate with social customers whereverthey are—in customer communities, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Whether through aformal idea exchange or a structured plan to capture customers’ ideas across socialchannels, turning to social customers for input and feedback accelerates innovation,mitigates risk, and increases competitive advantage.Ideation is the capture of customer feedback and input in a systematicway, identifying the most important ideas, and providing feedback andencouragement to keep the ideas flowing.Forrester Research, Inc. Analyst, Doug Williams, points out in his January 28, 2011Forrester blog posting, Why You Should Use Co-Creation To Build A Better ProductIn 2011, that “a majority of companies are not yet using social technologies to involveconsumers in the product development process, but that will soon change.” Forresterexpects an increasing number of companies to begin experimenting with socialcustomer ideation in 2011—“or risk being left behind while their competitors moveforward.”Indeed, Lithium has found that a number of our customers are dabbling in ideation—even though their customer communities were not intended for such. In a recent SocialCustomer survey, we found that although customer feedback and ideation were anintended benefit for 46% of communities, it was realized by 78% of communities.Ideation emerges as a natural “downstream” benefit of customer communities. Brandsare more likely to harvest and consider ideas from customers they trust—who engage ina sustained dialog with them. Customers are more likely to trust ideas from peers whohave proven themselves reliably knowledgeable over time.
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage2The Business Case for IdeationThe business case for ideating with social customers rests on the same principles asother online initiatives: reduced costs, increased customer loyalty, improved customersatisfaction, and increased sales. Reducing costs. Ideating with social customers can significantly reduce the costfor companies to acquire product feedback, particularly from targeted groups ofcustomers. Social customer ideation can help companies to validate plans, obtaincost effective fact-based market research faster than with traditional focus groups,and reduce the risks inherent in new product development. Increasing customer loyalty and improving customer satisfaction. Customers holda more positive opinion of a company when they think the company is listening tothem. Even more important to customer loyalty and satisfaction is the perceptionthat the company is acting on customer feedback. Two notable examples ofimplemented ideas, Dell’s new Linux systems and Starbucks’ introduction of lidstoppers to prevent spills, have helped both companies to improvecustomer sentiment. Driving sales. The real-time, inarguable data that comes from social customerideation enables companies to offer products and services their customers havealready indicated they will buy. This kind of customer-centric innovation is animportant competitive advantage as innovation cycles continue to accelerate.Ideation Best PracticesIf this is your first foray into social customer ideation, best practice is to start with anarrow focus, adding additional instances and broadening the focus over time.Best practices for social customer ideation and successful online communitieshave substantial overlap. Both benefit from thorough pre-launch planning andcareful execution.
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage31. Set a goal and define the ideation focus to meet that goal.Although most companies focus ideation on product feedback and suggestions, thereare many ways to utilize customer-generated ideas, including: Comprehensive listening: Not all ideas need be formally solicited. Many ideashappen as a byproduct of other things. With social media monitoring, customerinput can be culled from across social media—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, andforums—identified as ideas, and added to the ideation process. Contests or events: Typically used to build traffic to a community or energizecustomers around a specific event, contests and events are an easy-to-implementway to begin ideating with social customers. Examples include providing a showcasefor user-submitted photos and soliciting suggestions from customers for futureblog posts or discussion topics at an upcoming conference. Social polls: Short in duration and with narrow focus, social polls take the pulseof your customers—through their comments and votes—on specific ideas thatyou propose. You can prime the pump with a set of ideas that the company wantsfeedback on. Superuser focus groups: Based on a combination of reputation and activity, youcan identify the most valuable and prolific ideas contributors. By inviting them toparticipate in private ideation, you create a low-cost, ad hoc focus group that canyield a large amount of meaningful feedback quickly. Community feedback: This type of ideation collects feedback from communitymembers on the features and function of the community itself. Because thesubject of these ideas is limited to the community itself, taking action on the mostpopular ones is easy and carries very little risk. The rewards, however, are high ascommunity members see the company demonstrating its willingness to listen andrespond to their feedback.2. Define an internal process for evaluating ideas and deciding which ones meritfurther research.Companies that already handle input from employees or focus groups can simply adaptor build on existing processes. For companies that are new to ideation, a simple reviewand escalation process is typically enough to start with.
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage4Unlike focus groups that might be pulled together quickly and have a short life span,ideation is an ongoing proposition. As such, it requires ongoing involvement andencouragement from the company. With potential contributors waiting on the sidelinesto see how serious the company is about listening, company responsiveness has asignificant impact on the overall productivity of the ideation process.3. Define a comprehensive plan for communicating with customers about ideas.Although ideation is primarily about listening, an effective and comprehensive plan forcommunicating back to your customers is critical to ideation success. Companies whoideate sucessfully: Lay the groundwork to attract potential contributors through direct invitations tocustomers, links on the corporate website, display of ideas content on other webpages, and other similar activities. Set expectations and limits clearly and accurately, letting users know how quicklyyou will respond to new ideas and how often you will update users about ideas thatyou plan to act on. Experience tells us that accurate communication on these pointsis essential. Explain the ground rules so that users know not only what to contribute, but alsowhat not to contribute, what their votes mean, and how to comment on ideas. Plan for ongoing participation by the company to communicate on the status ofideas and any plans for implementation. If contributors don’t perceive that thecompany is listening, the flow of ideas will stop, and participation will dwindle.Regular blog posts are a good way to provide progress updates or to discuss ideasthat are under consideration. Publish your successes and be generous with credit for good ideas—this rewardscontributors and encourages more participation.4. Make ideation part of an overall social media strategy.Whether you are integrating ideation into an existing community or are using it asa way to start the online conversation with your customers, it should be part of acomprehensive social media plan.
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage5As the graph below indicates, ideating with social customers typically experiences rapidadoption as a result of pent-up user demand (a well-known computer manufacturerreported more than 2,000 ideas posted during the first week.) After the initialoutpouring of ideas from your customers, it’s wise to have a plan in place to capitalizeon user engagement by adding other social media applications such as forums or blogs,or by adding new services to engage the community that arise around youridea exchange.5. Enlist the right people.Having the right people engaged in an innovation project provides essential leadership,management, and communication functions. Key participants include: 1.) A businessowner who provides management support, sets the direction for the project, overseesthe budget, and re-evaluates its mission and direction regularly to ensure that theyremain relevant, 2.) An initiative manager who handles planning and day-to-daydecision-making. 3.) One or more moderators who provide feedback, enforce rules, andhelp users, and 4.) Designated communicators from different parts of the company whoare genuinely enthusiastic about ideation.Tip: When evaluating ideas solutions, look for software that empowers the initiativemanager with a wide range of administration and configuration options—both fordaily operations and to manage growth.Tip: Companies who ideate successfully have found that rank-and-file employeescan make good moderators. You may also want to consider including them in theprocess for evaluating the ideas submitted.IdeasTimePostsDuring the initial rollout of an ideaexchange, you can expect to see asteep and rapid adoption.By this point, you can identify the mostvaluable and prolific contributors.Before participation levels off orstarts to decline is the ideal time tointroduce additional social mediaapplications, such as blogs or forums,or offer new services to capitalize onthe activity and interest your ideaexchange has generated.123 123
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage66. Define roles for staff and users and configure the software appropriately.Key questions to ask when launching an ideas solution are:1. Who are the users of this idea exchange?2. What special rights or permissions are they likely to need to betruly productive?3. What rights and permissions will the employees who interact with the ideaexchange need?Tip: Look for an ideas solution with specific permissions that can be assigned at thecommunity, group, or individual level.7. Create a structure to engage users.Ideating with social customers means giving them the opportunity to submit ideas,discuss them, and vote on those they like the best. The goal is to encourage yourcustomers, even first-time visitors, to find and vote for ideas. The most successfulideation structures are accessible, easy to navigate, and allow visitors to readily discoverthe newest and the most popular ideas. A simple structure lowers the barriers toparticipation, encouraging early visitors to find a point of connection. As participationgrows, you can offer your most active customers additional ways in which toprovide feedback.Tip: Make sure that when usage scales, your ideation process supports the roll-outof additional features.8. Accentuate the positive.Maintaining a positive atmosphere is also key to productive ideation. Explicit guidelinesand clearly stated expectations about how participants will behave are an important firststep. Equally important is ongoing monitoring and moderation to maintain a productiveand engaging atmosphere.Tip: Although listening is the main function of ideation, make sure that your ideassolution includes tools for moderators to actively maintain a welcoming andinclusive atmosphere, as well as features that facilitate ongoing feedback from thecompany to participants’ ideas.
Best Practice IdeationCo-creating with Social Customers forIncreased Competitive Advantage79. Cultivate and use your superusers wisely.This is the golden rule for online communities and is equally true for ideation.Superusers are unpaid product experts and evangelists. They are knowledgeable aboutyour products, active contributors to your forums, and are most likely to contributethe best ideas for new products and enhancements. They are motivated by twindesires to help other customers use your products and help you build better ones.The key to finding your superusers is a comprehensive set of metrics that identifiestypical superuser behavior patterns and a system of public and private rewards thatencourages these patterns.Tip: To utilize superusers effectively, you need a robust reputation system thatacknowledges and rewards them—both publicly and privately—as theircontributions increase.